William Vollmann is fond of tackling large subjects and writing very big books, both fiction and non-fiction. In a two-volume work on climate change he addresses himself to the future inheritors of the earth and tries to explain to them why we did so little to prevent its destruction.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Neil McCarthy read aloud tends to remember the experience. Equal parts showman and shaman, he stalks the stage, reciting his work from memory, pouring forth both wit and wonder. On the page, his voice is not just captured but deepened.
As both a global writer and an Irish poet, a noteworthy aspect of Jo Burns’s poetry is, rather than the way she views the world, how the world views her. Living at the margins of the English language, with German offspring and spouse, her erudite idiolect can be spiced with fractured syntax or diced diction.
In a new collection of short stories, Nuala O’Connor, already known as a novelist and poet, shows what she can do in another form. Secrets, skeletons and the grey areas of morality are her specialty. She writes without a vestige of sentimentality, while still creating a lump-in-the-throat reaction.
There has been a welcome explosion of novels by young Irish women, but they often seem strangely conventional in form and content. Emer Martin cannot be accused of that. It is her unconventionality, perhaps, that has led to her curious invisibility at the forefront of Irish literature.
The essayist Chris Arthur grew up in Northern Ireland, where his father considered himself to be of British nationality. Physical absence from the island may have helped him create an Irish identity beyond the Catholic/Protestant duopoly. It is an identity based not on tribe but on landscape, place and memory.
Isaiah Berlin had not only a great gift for political philosophy but an unusual talent for verbal expression: his wartime diplomatic despatches from the US were greatly prized by Churchill. A new book by his editor surprisingly reveals that he was very reluctant to have his work published.
Cypriot restaurants, Italian barbers and French cafés gave London’s Soho a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the 1950s that stood out from the pervasive drabness. Dublin too had its artists’ haunts, with the link between the two cities taking particular form in the friendship between painters Lucian Freud and Patrick Swift.
The most radical critics of our contemporary political systems offer solutions that sound more like symptoms of the illness than any possible cure. Surely there is plenty of space between thinking there is no alternative and believing that the only alternatives possible are the outrageous ones.